The set is cartoonish but the emotions are anything but in The Hard Nut, Mark Morris’ adaptation of The Nutcracker. Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, the dance performance, playing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House, remains timeless in its appeal to outsiders longing for a special place where they belong.
Morris’ production features Tchaikovsky’s complete score but sets the story in 1970s suburbia, where, on the evening of a Christmas party, emotions are running high at the Stahlbaum house. The elder daughter, Louise (Lesley Garrison), longs to be the center of attention, while her little brother, Fritz (June Omura), is determined to make as much mischief and destruction as possible. The father (Morris), wants to appear head of the household, while the mother (John Heginbotham) wants more than a few drinks and the maid (Brandon Randolph) is just trying to keep everything together. Marie (Lauren Grant), on the other hand, is overlooked and ignored for much of the party, during which guests, decked out in 70s style of flared pants and miniskirts, drink heavily and copulate publicly. It’s no wonder Marie jumps at the opportunity to escape to another land.
With much of its aesthetic, which involves a Vertigo-like black and white spiral of which Clara falls into, is inspired by the work of comic artist Charles Burns. The Hard Nut provokes a feeling of determined make-believe. Many of the dancers are performing in drag, with hairy legs on full display, especially in the Act One snowflake number during which the dancers are clad in bikini-style tutus and tossing snow that strongly resembles cocaine from their hands.
At times, the narrative is confusing, and the second act attempts to carry too much of a narrative including a story about a group of mice and Princess Pirlipat. Then the audience follows Drosselmeier (Billy Smith) as he travels across the world in search of the titular Hard Nut, witnessing dance sequences of various styles at every stop along the way.
But witnessing Drosselmeier’s nephew (Aaron Loux) and Marie come together in a dance of joyful passion, is fulfilling. Marie, who had been slighted by her own family, finds the Nutcracker waiting devotedly for her every time she begins to dance away from him. Their concluding embrace is rewarding to witness.